Family Dynamics in Addiction

Family and Addiction Addiction does not only affect the person within their addiction it also affects the entire family. In a family, each member has a specific role for the family to function and maintain stability. When there is one person or multiple people in a family who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, the family roles will shift and adjust in order to adapt to this new dynamic to maintain balance within the family.

It can be helpful to examine relationship dynamics within the family in order to identify how these dynamics may be contributing to the addiction or affecting each person within the family. Some of the roles that family members might see themselves in are:  

  • The Addict: 

    • The family member who struggles with addiction. This may be a substance use addiction (alcohol or other drugs) or a behavioral addiction (gambling or sex).  
  • The Hero: 

    • In the family, this is the caretaker or the peacekeeper. The hero tries to overcompensate for the shame or other negative feelings that arise within the family through overachieving. The hero may also try to cover up what is happening within the family in order to make things look fine from the outside. In children, this may look like the “good child” or a child who is always seeking approval.  
  • The Enabler: 

    • Typically, the protector of the family, the enabler ensures that the addict does not experience any negative consequences of their addiction. This can lead the addict to not always receiving the help that they need to gain sobriety. The enabler may be experiencing shame and embarrassment regarding the addict’s behaviors which is why they work so hard to keep these behaviors within the family and hidden from the outside world.  
  • The Mascot

    • The mascot uses humor in order to minimize stress and discomfort within the family. The mascot uses humor to maintain a sense of balance within the family, but in doing so this humor may become an unhelpful coping mechanism for them in the future.  
  • The Scapegoat: 

    • Also known as the problem child, the scapegoat allows the family to deflect attention away from the addicted family member in order to not address the real issue of concern – the addiction. The scapegoat may be creating other problems within the family that become the focus of the family’s attention.  
  • The Lost Child: 

    • The Lost child hides within the family both physically and emotionally. They avoid conflict and suppress emotions in order to not be a cause of concern within the family. These behaviors can affect their relationships later in life in adulthood.   

Family members can return to healthy patterns of behavior within the family. Support groups, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, may provide education and testimonials from others who have gone through similar situations with family members. A family member can support a loved one going through addiction by encouraging them and holding them accountable. Setting healthy boundaries is just one way that family members can begin to change unhealthy family dynamics and hold their loved ones accountable.  


About Sarah Chun

Sarah is a Resident in Counseling providing counseling services through our Alexandria location. She completed her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Certificate in Addictions Studies from Immaculata University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Music: Vocal Performance from American University in Washington, D.C.

Sarah is a National Certified Counselor and a member of the American Counseling Association. Sarah is pursuing her License in Professional Counseling (LPC) for the state of Virginia and is working towards a certification in TF-CBT. To learn more about Sarah, click HERE

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